Reconciling mendicant and secular confessors in late medieval England

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This essay questions the argument, advanced by some historians to explain anti-fraternalism in fourteenth-century England, that friars appeared as lax and even socially disruptive confessors because they placed less emphasis than secular parish priests on confession and penance as a means of social discipline and resolution of interpersonal conflict, emphasising instead the individual, psychological aspects of sin. To test this hypothesis, this study examines instructions for interrogating penitents about the sins of wrath/anger and the requirements for the reconciliation of enemies. It compares the Latin manuals of the Dominican, John of Freiburg, and the anonymous, Franciscan Fasciculus morum on the one hand with the Latin manual by the secular clerk William of Pagula and the Middle English manuals for secular clergy by John Gaytrick and John Mirk on the other. The findings challenge the supposed dichotomy between secular and mendicant approaches to penance. Manuals for both types of confessor addressed conflict and enmity and encouraged introspection that connected anti-social behaviour and discord with an individual's psychology and spiritual wellbeing. Nor can it be assumed that such introspection was imposed on the laity, which was accustomed to struggling with feelings of anger or hatred when attempting to make peace.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)225-243
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Medieval History
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun. 2012


  • Anger
  • Anti-fraternalism
  • Clergy
  • Confession
  • England
  • Mendicants
  • Reconciliation


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